My Trip to the Flea Market
Click for the full picture of the flea market.
I had been nagging my girlfriend for almost two months to go to a flea market with me when she finally relented. I claimed the reason was that a flea market would make a great article. I could take pictures of all the stupid crap or maybe talk shop with a few "flea market characters". You know the type; old men with three teeth and a collection of horse-headed cigar cutters that he has painstakingly assembled as an obvious lifelong hobby and is now selling them for three dollars a piece or less if you drive a hard bargain. I had gone to some flea markets in Ohio as a kid and I was always fascinated by the cramped booths and the strange array of trinkets being sold. It seemed like a good idea on the surface, but the collections of baseball cards and pot-holders made out of animal hair were not what I got when I visited my first Chicago flea market.
The closest one to us was on Chicago's Westside (which can be pronounced Westsuhiiiiidde if and only if you are the Ganster, the Killer, or the Dope Dealer) on the border between our own Puerto Rican neighborhood and a Mexican neighborhood. It was called something like "Bargain Market", but there was no sign and the only indication that it was organized in any way was the fact that an old man near the entrance charged us a dollar admittance/parking fee. Paying a dollar to park your car in Chicago is like getting paid twenty dollars to park your car and have it detailed in most other cities, so at least they had the "bargain" part right. Once we paid our paltry fee we literally drove through the market itself, which was contained within a very large warehouse, and up onto the roof where we parked overlooking a scenic abandoned factory and junkyard. I guess the dollar didn't buy a view.
I was in for a bit of a culture shock once we descended the ramp back into the market. Out of probably six or seven hundred shoppers and shopkeepers my girlfriend and I were the only Caucasians. This wouldn't have bothered me that much except for the fact that the only Spanish I know are the numbers one through ten, "El Pinto Grande", and "si". Unless someone asked me to count down to the launch of the spaceship El Pinto Grande in the form of a yes or no question I was not going to be speaking Spanish.
Some people you can look at and say "yeah, that guy is from the street'. Maybe it's a swagger, maybe it's the clothes, maybe it's just the fact that you actually see them emerging from the middle of a street like a CHUD or a ninja turtle. Whatever the reason, I am the opposite of the guy you can tell is "from the street". When I walked into that flea market I might as well have been wearing overalls, carrying a pitchfork, and looking around with my mouth agape saying "golly" to everything. The fact that I was there to laugh at all of the stupid shit suddenly developed horrible racist connotations in my mind and I had to conceal every smile as it broke across my face when I saw a crystalline statue of the grim reaper or an airbrushed t-shirt that said SEXY.
Despite my reservations, we forged on. I didn't pay that outrageous dollar parking fee to run away with my tail between my legs just because I was suddenly a minority. The flea market was divided into two areas and bisected by the ramp that allowed access to the rooftop parking. One area was obviously originally the loading dock, with high ceilings and large open cargo doors. This was the final destination on our flea market visit though, because like a haunted house at a county fair we were forced down a dark corridor and into a claustrophobic and exceedingly hot labyrinth of stalls.
I think this is going to look great on our wall next to our giant black velvet painting of a clown crying.
This second area contained the bulk of the flea market, comprising seven rows of cramped stalls that extended almost to the horizon. The first thing that was immediately apparent was that 99% of Chicago's gray market clothing was being sold at that flea market. Stall after stall offered five dollar Hilfiger shirts and ten dollar pairs of Levis jeans. If they weren't hocking direct rip-offs they were selling knock-offs like the Nike shoes that came in an unlabeled box for fifteen bucks a pair. Another thing I noticed was that Hispanic people are a lot more interested in religious statuary than Anglo-Americans. There were at least eight or nine booths selling various sorts of statues. At one such booth my eye was drawn to a set of particularly garish religious paintings.
Most religious art is content to rely on giant golden halos and beams of light emerging from Jesus to get across the fact that he was Holy and good. The art in this particular booth decided to one up those old-fashioned pictures of the Last Supper and boldly shout "this ain't your grandpappy's portrait of Christ". I ended up getting a picture of the Last Supper that featured a rotating wheel of lights behind it, but I was torn between it and a painting of the Crucifixion in which the flowing blood of Christ had been replaced with a series of blinking red lights. I guess these are intended to entertain you while you stare at them with totally classy reverence.
There were also numerous toy booths selling a variety of legitimate and less-than-legitimate movie tie-in merchandise. At one particular toy stall I was transfixed by a large Spiderman 2 package. Now at a normal toy store you're going to buy a Spiderman toy and you're going to get one or zero Spiderman figures depending on the toy. If you buy Spiderman's car you're probably not getting a Spiderman figure with the car. This action pack contained Spiderman's helicopter - I guess the footage of that got cut from the movie - and Spiderman's helicopter made raygun sounds at the push of a button. For most people that would be all you would really expect to get out of a Spiderman toy. The helicopter is definitely worth it, right? I mean you can buy a Spiderman figure separately if you really need to. But this toy wasn't content to offer just the helicopter, it included a Spider man figure.
Click for the full picture of Spiderman's hot bargain slinging action.
Oh, did I say Spiderman figure? I meant four Spiderman figures of wildly different physiques and sizes. I guess Spiderman got his buddies together and they all put on their Spiderman suits for a hot night on the town.
"Hop in the helicopter guys! Oh, wait, there's only one seat. Well, you guys can hang onto the clip-on landing struts that are obviously from some other toy entirely while my raygun engine whisks us away to a land of pleasure!"
I negotiated the shopkeeper down to eight dollars on the Spiderman action set and continued on my way, pleased despite myself at the value I was cramming into this trip.
We did cross paths with several food booths, most of which offered south of the border treats that I had already tasted more than enough of. We also stopped by the most depressing booth in the entire flea market; the pet booth. This stall contained stacks of cages containing such uplifting sights as turtles in water that was black, shaking puppies in aquariums, and hamster and gerbil cages with no tops that were being swarmed by grasping children who kept picking up the animals in their fists. Nothing says "family shopping trip" like a stop by the gerbil cages so your kids can crush the ribs of a rodent while squealing with delight like some Faulknerian man-child.
Before we headed out I knew that I had to pay a visit to the numerous tables of bootleg DVDs. Each of these tables offered the following:
"I, Robot" and numerous recently released films on DVD.
Dozens of weird looking Mexican action movies on VHS.
Hundreds of even weirder looking Mexican music CDs. Some of these had covers with things like a woman in a bikini, holding a machinegun, and floating in a ball of fire or a cowboy on a jet ski with a dog. At least now I know what the guys who drive by my apartment at two in the morning causing me heart palpitations with their stereo's bass are actually listening to.
After my successes with the Last Supper and Spiderman I felt I was up for a little black market dealing. I purchased The Passion of Christ, savoring the irony and rejoicing that I would finally see the movie without that milquetoast sadist Gibson seeing a dime of it. Sure it was in Spanish and I knew it was going to be a theatrical screener, but hey, like I'm going to sit through a movie in Aramaic anyway. At least this way I could pretend I was watching Telemundo and keep waiting for the guy in the bee suit to come out and help the Romans scourge the fuck out of Christ for an hour and a half.
I was amazed to see the minimalist disc art that Mr. Gibson had chosen.
Before we left I resolved to take at least one picture of the flea market for this article. As discreetly and as close to the exit as could possibly be managed. I got to where I had a decent view of the black market DVDs and tried to put out of my mind the fact that I was the only white guy there and I was taking a picture of potentially illegal immigrants buying illegal merchandise at a no-doubt illegal flea market. I have heard the expression "shooting daggers with his eyes" used to describe someone staring hatefully. When the flash went off it took less than a second for those hateful stares to become trained on me, and now I know that the expression has more truth to it than I had imagined. I could actually feel their angry gazes hitting me.
I was packing up the camera when my girlfriend, apparently oblivious to the simmering anger in the room, suggested a second picture. I gave her my patented "what the fuck?" look, but she was determined. She took the camera from me and began to line up a second photo. Now I love my girlfriend very much, but by that point I was quietly practicing saying "el pinto grande" and "si" so that I could try to blend into the crowd as the mob came for her. The camera is new, so as the potential rioters began to limber up their muscles for the inevitable lynching my poor girlfriend was standing there trying to figure out how to turn it on. More and more time passed, anger visible in the air as lightening crackling from person to person like a Jacob's Ladder, and my girlfriend still struggled on with determination.
Then she dropped the camera. In slow motion the brand new digital camera that every single angry Mexican and Puerto Rican in the room was staring at began to drop from her fingers towards the hard concrete floor. As it fell the corners of the watching crowd's mouths began to twist up in smiles. When it hit the ground it seemed to shatter like glass, which was - in hindsight - me projecting my horror onto the unfolding reality. My hand shot out and collected the pieces, stuffing them into my pockets with speed I did not know I had. We exited as quickly as possible.
"You would be the worst spy ever," I informed my girlfriend on our way to the car.
It was true, she would be the worst spy ever, but when I glanced back down the ramp at the crowd I realized they weren't chasing us. In fact, they were pretty apathetic. A few looked irritated but most of them just went about their business like the two stupid white people were never even there.
That was going to be the end of this article but I felt I should take advantage of my digital camera (which miraculously survived) and wantonly and badly steal from Matt from X-Entertainment to showcase my shitty Spiderman figures.
Airman Johnny American's Mustang was hit by a lucky burst of flak, but as it plummeted to the ground in flames Johnny American parachuted to safety.
His landing was rough. It snapped both of Johnny's legs clean off at the knee! He gathered himself up and tried to perform first aid.
"Zee jig, es ist uppen Jabo!"
"Not so fast Commies!"
"Zere are too many of us to be kaputed by your autogyro Spidermensch!"
"I guess those Nazis didn't count on me bringing Crazy Legs Spiderman and his friends!"
Guess Who Sucks!
This week, Dr. David Thorpe falls headlong into the recent music-press trend of overly simplistic top-ten lists. But you see, since he's a jerk and he hates everything, he has compiled a list of the top ten worst rock stars of all time!
"Try to summon up a Lenny Kravitz single in your mind: is the title of the song either generic or an undisguised cliché? Probably. Are Lenny's vocals transparently imitative of Jimi Hendrix or Curtis Mayfield? Probably. Does it contain lots of fuzz-pedal guitar riffs? Of course it does. Lenny Kravitz has been releasing the same crap over and over again for fifteen years, and people who like to hear the same crap over and over again for fifteen years have been buying it over and over again for fifteen years. "
It's a list full of twists and turns and zings and snaps, culminating in a strange and unexpected plot twist! You'll be on the edge of your seat!